"What's he like? God?"
"Lonely. But funny. He's got a great sense of humor."
The best comedy relies on performance, not jokes, to generate laughs. Bill Cosby's stage show is hilarious, but if you try to repeat the jokes at work the next day they sound flat and unfunny. The humor is in the performance, not the punch lines.
Dogma has plenty of punch lines, but creates most of its humor through the performances. When Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) discuss killing people for fun, most of the humor is in their nonchalance, not the script. Alan Rickman, as the voice of God, turns in a stellar performance. One moment he's speaking with authority and reverb, the next he's whining about his clothes getting dirty. Jay's filthy monologues are funny for their sheer excess. Chris Rock, as Rufus, the 13th apostle, creates his humor with his delivery and facial expressions. Even George Carlin, whose once brilliant stage show has deteriorated into nothing more than angry, unfunny complaints from a bitter old man, turns in a funny performance. One of the funniest jokes is who is cast as God.
Shortly after Loki brought the wrath of God down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, he and Bartleby were cast out of heaven. They've been exiled to Wisconsin ever since, but have found a loophole in Catholic dogma that will let them get back into heaven. Unfortunately, since the existence of the entire universe is based on the infallibility of God, their stunt will undo the existence of everything. Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a Catholic who still goes through the motions of worship but finds no satisfaction in it, is recruited to stop them.
With the exception of one unnecessary scene that confused grossness for humor and spent far too long getting to it's lame punch line, this is one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long time. Despite the language, which some people might find offensive, and the irreverent slaps it takes at Catholicism and at religion in general, it is, at it's heart, a very reverent movie. The naysayers, who are too unimaginative to appreciate the humor, much less understand the motives behind it, miss the point entirely. Kevin Smith is, by his own admission, very Catholic, and this is his clever attempt to deal with the issues of Catholicism, faith, and God. Buried beneath all the humor and special effects, there is a deep affection for God, religion, faith and the Catholic church.
But don't let that put you off if you're not religious. See it for one reason: it's really, really funny.
© 2001 Dave Hitt